Costs Rise as Virus Delays Hinkley Nuclear Build

The developer of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant project said impacts from the coronavirus pandemic may delay construction of the new reactors by six months, and raise the project’s costs by nearly £500 million ($700 million).

EDF Energy in a Jan. 27 update on the plant’s progress said the total cost for the UK’s first new nuclear generating facility in decades could rise to £23 billion ($31.5 billion). The company said construction delays likely will push the reactor’s in-service date to summer 2026.

Hinkley Point C, a 3,200-MW nuclear station with two EPR reactors designed and developed by Framatome and EDF, had been expected to come online by year-end 2025. EDF, the French state-owned energy company, said the pandemic delayed construction by at least three months last year, and the company expects similar delays this year.

“Ten months after it began, we are still facing the full force of the pandemic,” Stuart Crooks, the managing director of Hinkley Point C, said in a video message to employees Wednesday. Crooks said the number of workers at the 400-acre site in Somerset has been increased from below 2,000 to more than 5,000, but said requirements on social distancing “still limit the number of people we can safely have on site at any one time.”

Crooks in his update said the project remains “focused on the objective to lift the Unit 1 dome at the end of 2022,” and said, “The start of electricity generation from Unit 1 is now expected in June 2026, compared to end-2025 as initially announced in 2016.”

Higher Construction Costs

EDF in 2019 said construction costs for the project have risen by £5 billion ($6.85 billion) in the past five years. The project now is estimated to cost almost double the amount to build as first expected in 2008. A 2026 start date would be almost nine years after the original start date of Christmas 2017. Crooks on Thursday noted that “None of this extra cost is carried by British consumers,” though power bills will rise once electricity from the plant is made available.

EDF Energy has repeatedly said it is responsible for all the added construction costs of the project. EDF said its guaranteed price of £92.50 ($127) for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced by Hinkley remains unchanged. The company said it still expects to make a return of between 7.1% and 7.2% on its investment in the project, with payback coming from increased energy bills for electricity customers. Officials have said the nuclear plant is expected to add between £10 and £15 (about $21) a year to the average energy bill for 35 years.

Stuart Crooks, managing director of Hinkley Point C, provides an update on construction of the two new reactors at the UK site in Somerset in this Jan. 26, 2021, video. Source: EDF Energy / YouTube

Ramifications for Sizewell Project

The UK government is continuing discussions with EDF to build a second nuclear reactor with EDF’s junior partner, China’s CGN (China Nuclear Power Group), at Sizewell in Suffolk, saying construction there would build on lessons learned from the construction of Hinkley Point C. Government officials, though, responding to criticism from several groups about the cost and financing of the Hinkley project, have said they are exploring new funding options for the Sizewell plant. The UK government in 2015 furnished Hinkley Point C with a £2 billion ($2.7 billion) government loan guarantee.

Hinkley Point C is the only new-build nuclear project ongoing in the UK. The two reactors are being built at a site in Somerset that formerly housed the decommissioned Magnox reactor (Hinkley Point A), and an operating advanced gas-cooled reactor (Hinkley Point B).

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

SHARE this article